For the retro photographer, stumbling upon a vintage camera at a garage sale or thrift store is like finding buried treasure. The old mechanical cameras that are so prevalent at swap meets and secondhand stores are hailed for their reliability, even after decades of use and abuse. Even the cosmetic issues that plague old cameras–grimy leatherette, dusty lenses and sticky mechanisms–are easily resolved with a few household products and a bit of gentle cleaning.
Blow away surface dust from the entire camera. Point the tip of the air blower away from the camera to avoid blowing dust into the body.
Remove the lens from the camera and blow away dust from the barrel and optics. Moisten a lens tissue with a small amount of cleaning solution and swab the front and rear glass with a gentle circular motion. Wipe the lens barrel clean with a microfiber cloth.
Hold the air blower 4 inches from the inside of the camera body and blow away any internal dust. If you are cleaning a single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera, blow the retractable mirror and focusing screen clean.
Dampen a microfiber cloth with warm water. Wipe the entire camera body clean, including the viewfinder window, and allow it to air-dry. Use cotton swabs to clean in between grooves and crevices. For tough grime or a sticky leatherette, douse the cloth with a small amount of solvent, such as mineral spirits or isopropyl alcohol. Rub the dirty area with a gentle circular motion.
Place the camera and lens on a warm windowsill for several hours to loosen sticky mechanisms, such as a focus ring or wind lever. Exercise the camera’s shutter and wind lever in addition to the lens’s aperture and focus rings to redistribute the lubricant.
Reattach any frayed or loose pieces of the leatherette to the camera body with a small drop of white glue. Allow the glue to dry overnight before use.
Tips & Warnings
Ensure that no flammable items are near the lens while it is in the windowsill. Depending on how the lens is positioned, its optics can focus sun rays and cause a fire hazard.
Avoid cleaning your camera with harsh chemicals, rich soaps or degreasers. These will seep into the camera body and disturb delicate mechanisms.